Archive for Technology

An Open Letter to Nokia – How to Win Back The Smartphone Market

Posted in Technology by epictetus on December 28th, 2009

Nokia is in a very difficult position now;  they have become completely irrelevant in the US smartphone market, and are losing ground around the world.  At one time, they had at least a 5-10 year technology lead on any competitor — having the first platform with an open API for app development, among many other firsts.  In fact, it’s only within the last few years that other smartphones have begun to even come close to what Nokia/symbian could do.  However, the marketing side never caught up with the technology — every day there are news stories about “amazing” new capabilities of Android or iPhones that are capabilities Symbian phones had since 2004 or earlier — capabilities Nokia never successfully marketed.

  1. Figure Out US Carrier Subsidies and Partnerships. This is something that EVERY successful smartphone company in the US must do — 99.9% of the US market simply WILL NOT BUY AN UNSUBSIDIZED PHONE, EVER.   US consumers get their smartphones by walking into a Verizon Wireless or Cingular or T-Mobile storefront (or booth) and signing up for a contract/getting a phone on the spot.  NONE OF THESE CONSUMERS ARE EVEN BEING OFFERED THE CHOICE OF A NOKIA SMARTPHONE. The US is an important market and it is going to be impossible for Nokia smartphones to succeed without a US presence.
  2. Revitalize Symbian. This means, in many cases, UI improvements need to be copied from the iPhone — menus need to be simplified, boot time needs to be dramatically reduced, lag needs to be reduced, browsing needs to be improved, touchscreen support needs to be made drastically more user-friendly, sensitive, and intuitive.  Multitouch support needs to be added and if there is a way in software to add multitouch to existing devices, that needs to be done (there is a Symbian touchscreen game that at least appears to support multitouch).
  3. The Ovi Store needs dramatic improvements. First off, the enormous library of existing S60 freeware apps need to be added to the Ovi store — Nokia should go so far as to actually PAY developers to put applications in the store.  Nokia needs to stop worrying about profiting by charging developers fees to add applications to the store and taking a percentage of commercial apps — IF THE SYMBIAN PLATFORM DIES THESE FEES WILL AMOUNT TO NOTHING.  Charging development fees on a platform no one uses is not a workable business model.    Second, the store needs far more applications, the Ovi application needs to be more responsive, and installing an application needs to be faster.
  4. Navigation needs to be free on every GPS-enabled Nokia phone. Again, trying to charge for add-ons to a platform that is essentially dead is not a workable business model;  Nokia needs to defeat the iPhone first and then they will have the luxury of trying to increase profit margins by charging for add-ons; you can’t sell add-ons to a phone nobody buys.
  5. Nokia needs to make several Android phones. Nokia has some of the best hardware engineering skills in the world;  they  should show off these skills by making the best Android smartphones on the market, and the internal competition should encourage improvements in Maemo and Symbian.  This also hedges Nokia’s position if the Maemo and Symbian product development teams fail.
  6. 5800 Needs Firmware Updates to Become iPhone Killer. The Symbian and Ovi Store improvements mentioned above should help this, as should carrier relationships — we need news stories about the things the 5800 can do that the iPhone can’t.  We need better browsing, better apps, more responsiveness, and a better overall user experience.

My Dream Laptop

Posted in Technology by epictetus on September 2nd, 2009

With the advent of netbooks, tablets, and smartphones, people have been changing a lot about laptops.  There have been some changes that frankly are going in the wrong direction, such as glossy screens, loud fans, tiny keyboards (on netbooks), etc.  So, here is my response to what the “ideal” laptop would be.

  • 14 inch non-glossy screen with low-power technology, wide angle visibility, and decent resolution. Smaller screens than this are hard to see, glossy screens are hard to see in bright conditions, and low resolutions like 800×600 make it difficult to use many applications and websites that were designed for larger screens. Daylight readability would be nice if possible.
  • Correspondingly full-sized keyboard — this is one place where many netbooks fall short, with keyboards that are simply too small to comfortably use.
  • TouchPoint(tm) style nipple-mouse with separate well-protected/well-designed touchpad and at least 3 mouse buttons – many notebook touchpads are awful, and will interpret an accidental brush of your palm while typing as a click or drag, with sometimes disastrous consequences.  Nipple mice take some getting used to but don’t have this problem and can be very nice once you are used to them.
  • A Very Fast , decent-sized SSD drive –  we can gain a LOT of performance by going with a fast SSD instead of a hard disk, and it is silent, and it will use less power.
  • A “Middle of the road” processor and chipset. Right now, there are a few solutions (like Atom) with very low power, but also poor performance.  Intel has not yet released a dual-core notebook/netbook processor, with dual-core 8-watt atom 330s only being sold in desktop or embedded systems.   On the other hand, most Core 2 Duo mobile CPUs are 35 watts, and the GPUs and northbridges could easily double that to 70 watts, consuming a lot of battery and requiring loud fans.  I propose a CPU/GPU/chipset combination that includes a multi-core CPU with decent performance (perhaps like the extremely expensive 17 watt Core 2 Duo 7700) but a total thermal dissipation of around 35 watts for CPU, GPU, and chipset.
  • A very large (9-cell at least) battery — we’d like this sucker to run on battery a _long_ time, hopefully 8 hours at least.
  • Integrated DVD/blueray/CD burner/reader, gigabit, modem, 802.11a/b/g/n with external antenna connector,  bluetooth, infrared, at least 6 usb2 ports, webcam, microphone, speakers
  • An integrated ramdisk OS on the BIOS chip (like Asus provides) that allows web browsing even if your hard disk dies
  • Quiet fans, and a Silent mode — if there is a fan that can get loud (when you _really_ need that processing power), there should also be a silent mode where the CPU will slow down/throttle to cool itself rather than letting the fan get louder..
  • Solid construction with well-thought-out design.  IBM’s innovative keyboard drains (where liquids spilled through the keyboard can drain out the bottom instead of getting into the system) come to mind. Solid titanium hinges, impact-resistant design, etc.

I can’t wait till somebody builds something like this.

Microsoft Genuine Advantage(TM) Javascript Crack

Posted in Technology by epictetus on April 3rd, 2006

I figured that I would post this in case I ever have trouble finding it in the future. Microsoft has a “feature” of its windows update process that verifies the product key that was used to install the product; in some corporate environments where a number of systems were cloned using the same key this can cause problems.

To get around this, when on the windows update website, before hitting “Custom” or “Express”, just cut-and-paste the following javascript command into the Address bar:


Viola, no more Genuine Advantage.

HD DVD Standard Deliberately Downgrades Picture Quality for Older HDTVs

Posted in Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 24th, 2006

I noticed a link to this SCI FI Tech article; the author points out the under the access control rules just released for the new HD-DVD standard, component output (which is the only HD input featured on quite a number of older/early-adopter HDTVs) will be limited to only 1/4 of full resolution.  Once again this shows the gall and utter disdain of the content industry for their consumers;  they have absolutely NO objection to abusing thousands of their lawful, paying customers in order to place small technological “speedbumps” to piracy (which will NOT prevent piracy, there will be any number of technological means to bypass this).

I was listening to a talk Cory Doctorow gave a little while ago, and he pointed out the funny paradigm that if you purchase a legal copy of a DVD or a copy-protected CD, you get a much lower quality product than if you pirated the same movie or album.  It just seems like a funny business model to punish paying customers by giving them a worse product than people who use peer to peer networks to download it.  In the world of business, it usually makes more sense to reward paying customers than to punish them.  In the case of the Sony rootkit, you are rewarded for your patronage by Sony breaking into your system, spying on you, lying about it, and also compromising your security so that other people can also break in.

Heroic System Administrator Fights Communist Oppression

Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 11th, 2006

Businessweek online posted this story about a company called DIT that sells products and services to the Chinese people in order to bypass the Chinese government’s firewalls, filtering, and monitoring.  The company was founded by Bill Xia, a member of the banned Falun Gong religious group.    Xia is hiding his location and information for fear of retribution against him or his family by Communist thugs.  Keep up the good work, Bill!


Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 7th, 2006

Arstechnica has an interesting story on cable cards.  I particularly liked this quote:

In any case, get ready for the brave new world of total end-to-end encryption, which is just about here. You have to give the content providers credit for ingenuity, whatever you think of their plans. With the next generation of digital media products (including Blu-ray, HD DVD, and CableCARDs), the content and consumer electronics industries have joined forces to push mandatory encryption standards. They haven’t done it through legislation, but through licensing—much as the consortium behind the DVD forced manufacturers to follow region encoding rules if they wanted a license to make the players. 

They are trying to design the technology of the television network and DVDs in such a way that it will lock out any do-it-yourselfers, innovators, or any other potential threats to the monopolies of the large media companies that might be posed by any pesky innovation.  I’d like to throw out a Luddite analogy: imagine if the original Luddites had been able to design and universally institute a new type of wool that it was not possible to feed through a steam-powered loom.  We might never have had an industrial revolution.

Home of the Underdogs

Posted in Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

While on the topic of abandonwarez, I thought I would also link this site.  The Home of the Underdogs is a repository for primarily DOS software that is no longer on the market and is obsolete, but is still under copyright protection.  The site has a policy of linking to a reseller instead of offering a download for any program that is still available for sale somewhere, and of removing any software at the copyright holder’s request.
If you want to be  able to actually download and play some of these old games, the Dosbox emulator emulates a dos machine on modern Apple OSX, Linux, and Windows computers.  It can take a little tweaking to get some games working but in general it is the best way to play these old games.

Virtual Apple 2 abandonwarez

Posted in Laws,Norms,Technology by epictetus on February 3rd, 2006

This site has a java/browser-based Apple II emulator and an _incredible_ collection of disk images that you can boot.  A little Oregon Trail or Rocky’s Boots or LogoWriter, anyone?

It’s interesting because though this site is almost certainly _technically_ in violation of copyright, these are programs with absolutely no commercial potention and that are no longer being sold or manufactured.  In many cases, the companies that originally produced them are out of business.  There is very little threat that those running the site will be sued for copyright violation.  To me, this brings up an interesting point: that the current indefinite copyright period (every 20 years the industry pumps a few million into lobbyists in order to get Congress to retroactively extend it another 20 years, so at the rate copyright for 20th century works will never expire) is completely out of line with the pace of the software industry.

Microsoft DRM to “lock out hobbyists”

Posted in Technology by epictetus on February 2nd, 2006

Cory Doctorow posted this peice to boingboing talking about how Microsoft’s video DRM technology has a licensing scheme that is intended specifically to lock out hobbyists. I think this is a case of Microsoft “whoops, I wasn’t supposed to say that.”

Again, I find this to be an excellent example of the way corporations are trying to use technology to create/enforce monopolies and limit competition or innovation. We see this kind of story all the time; the only bright point is that the opposite can also be true. We can design technologies that empower individuals and lock out, limit, and monitor large corporations or governments; just as there are legal, ethical, and economic battles being fought over the future of freedom, engineers and inventors need to fight a technological battle the same way.